wed 19/06/2024

Mistress America | reviews, news & interviews

Mistress America

Mistress America

Noah Baumbach's latest is fun - up to a point

Sister act (or maybe not): Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in `Mistress America'

People talk at and not to one another in Mistress America, the latest collaboration between director Noah Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig and the first to make me wonder whether the unarguably gifted real-life couple might benefit from an outside eye to let them know when enough is enough.

A tribute to the life force here embodied by Gerwig as a go-getter New Yorker who may be less confident than she lets on, this short film (less than 90 minutes) starts out entertainingly enough but soon wears out its welcome on the way to an ending suggesting Baumbach and co may love this unbridled character more than we do. 

In fact, the principal role isn't Gerwig's Brooke – aka Mistress America, as she is referenced with mock-grandiosity – but Tracy (Lola Kirke) a Barnard undergrad newly arrived in Manhattan who is about to be related to the older, worldlier Brooke when Tracy's mum marries Brooke's dad, the couple's two children in attendance as readers at the wedding. What better excuse, therefore, for a college freshman schooled in Antigone but untutored in life to meet her soon-to-be stepsister than for Tracy to take the plunge and give Brooke a call, thereby setting in motion a friendship that undergoes multiple reversals on the way to a bittersweet finish that has about it a tonal flavour of Annie Hall

In fact, the work Mistress America borrows from far more directly is Jon Robin Baitz's erstwhile Broadway hit Other Desert Cities (seen at the Old Vic last year), whose central plot device – the thin line between literary appropriation and misappropriation – fuels the screenplay here even as that play's offending author shares the same name, Brooke, as the character in Baumbach's film who takes offense when the innocent (or is she?) Tracy oversteps the authorial mark. (The play is also directly cited in passing in an exchange that makes clear Baumbach's debt.) 

The point is, happy though Brooke is to put herself out there (life for her would appear to be one long, sustained performance), this self-proclaimed "autodidact" doesn't like it when the fledgling writer, Tracy, co-opts the older woman's name and, by extension, her life, the competing authorial ambitions of Tracy and schoolmate Tony (Matthew Shear) well-established at the outset before its ramifications come home to roost. 

Indeed, when Mistress America is roaming the corridors of college life, it's on ever-fertile ground, and the opening sequences setting forth Tracy's freshman-year hesitancy are as judiciously observed as the first crush that finds Tony slipping from her grasp and into the hilariously jealous arms of Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones, a hoot).

Mistress AmericaIt's only once Gerwig swaggers into view, carrying an elaborately cultivated bluff and bluster before her, that the film loses its way, its putative climax at the swellegant home of Brooke's onetime boyfriend, Dylan (Michael Chernus pictured above between Gerwig and Kirke), devolving into a chaos that doesn't entirely land. That said, Cindy Cheung is priceless as a pregnant tax attorney who gets caught up in the tug-of-war that ensues between Dylan's former lover, Brooke, and his current one, Mamie-Claire, who is played by Heather Lind with a mounting panic that is delicious to behold.

Indeed, Baumbach's satiric acumen is so fully in evidence that one wishes he had stepped back just a bit from his film's grandest creation and seen Brooke more in the round than for the most part she sees herself. The implication by the final credits is that this urban pioneer belongs to a vanishing breed of self-invented wonder women who also happen to be "beacon(s) of hope". That may to some extent be true, but I for one wasn't entirely unhappy on those rare occasions when she decided to pause for breath.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Mistress America 



Baumbach's satiric acumen is so fully in evidence that one wishes he had stepped back just a bit from his film's grandest creation


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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